MoboReader> Literature > The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico

   Chapter 1 OUR MOTHER HAS A FORTUNE WAITING US YONDER.

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 9322

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The Spanish Calendar is simpler than the Aztecan. In fact, Christian methods, of whatever nature, are better than heathen.

So, then, by the Spanish Calendar, March, 1519, had about half spent itself in the valley of Anahuac, which was as yet untrodden by gold-seeker, with cross-hilted sword at his side, and on his lips a Catholic oath. Near noon of one of its fairest days a traveller came descending the western slope of the Sierra de Ahualco. Since the dawn his path had been amongst hills and crags; at times traversing bald rocks that towered to where the winds blew chill, then dipping into warm valleys, where were grass, flowers, and streamlets, and sometimes forests of cedar and fir,-labyrinths in which there reigned a perpetual twilight.

Toilsome as was the way, the traveller, young and strong, marched lightly. His dress, of the kind prevalent in his country, was provincial, and with few signs of rank. He had sandals of buffalo-hide, fitted for climbing rocks and threading pathless woods; a sort of white tunic, covering his body from the neck to the knees, leaving bare the arms from the shoulder; maxtlatl and tilmatli-sash and mantle-of cotton, blue tinted, and void of ornament; on the wrist of his left arm he wore a substantial golden bracelet, and in both ears jewelled pendants; while an ebony band, encircling his head, kept his straight black locks in place, and permitted a snow-white bird's-wing for decoration. There was a shield on his left arm, framed of wood, and covered with padded cloth, and in the left hand a javelin barbed with 'itzli; at his back swung a maquahuitl, and a quiver filled with arrows; an unstrung bow in his right hand completed his equipments, and served him in lieu of staff. An ocelot, trudging stealthily behind him, was his sole companion.

In the course of his journey he came to a crag that sank bluffly down several hundred feet, commanding a fine prospect. Though the air was cold, he halted. Away to the northwest stretched the beautiful valley of Anahuac, dotted with hamlets and farm-houses, and marked with the silver tracery of streams. Far across the plain, he caught a view of the fresh waters of Lake Chalco, and beyond that, blue in the distance and faintly relieved against the sky, the royal hill of Chapultepec, with its palaces and cypress forests. In all the New World there was no scene comparable with that he looked upon,-none its rival for beauty, none where the heavens seemed so perfectly melted into earth. There were the most renowned cities of the Empire; from that plain went the armies whose marches were all triumphs; in that air hovered the gods awaiting sacrifices; into that sky rose the smoke of the inextinguishable fires; there shone the brightest suns, and lingered the longest summers; and yonder dwelt that king-in youth a priest, then a warrior, now the terror of all nations-whose signet on the hand of a slave could fill the land with rustling of banners.

No traveller, I ween, could look unmoved on the picture; ours sat down, and gazed with brimful eyes and a beating heart. For the first time he was beholding the matchless vale so overhung with loveliness and full of the monuments of a strange civilization. So rapt was he that he did not observe the ocelot come and lay its head in his lap, like a dog seeking caresses. "Come, boy!" he said, at last rousing himself; "let us on. Our Mother[2] has a fortune waiting us yonder."

And they resumed the journey. Half an hour's brisk walk brought them to the foot of the mountain. Suddenly they came upon company.

It was on the bank of a considerable stream, which, pouring in noisy torrent over a rocky bed, appeared to rush with a song forward into the valley. A clump of giant oaks shaded a level sward. Under them a crowd of tamanes,[3] tawny, half-clad, broad-shouldered men, devoured loaves of cold maize bread. Near the roots of the trees their masters reclined comfortably on petates, or mats, without which an Aztec trader's outfit was incomplete. Our traveller understood at a glance the character of the strangers; so that, as his road led directly to them, he went on without hesitation. As he came near, some of them sat up to observe him.

"A warrior going to the city," said one.

"Or rather a king's courier," suggested another.

"Is not that an ocelot at his heels?" asked a third.

"That it is. Bring me my javelin!"

"And mine! And mine!" cried several of them at once, all springing to their feet.

By the time the young man came up, the whole party stood ready to give him an armed welcome.

I am very sorry to have disturbed you," he said, quietly finding

himself obliged to stop.

"You seem friendly enough," answered one of the older men; "but your comrade there,-what of him?"

The traveller smiled. "See, he is muzzled."

The party laughed at their own fears. The old merchant, however, stepped forward to the young stranger.

"I confess you have greatly relieved me. I feared the brute might set on and wound somebody. Come up, and sit down with us."

The traveller was nowise disinclined, being tempted by the prospect of cheer from the provision-baskets lying around.

"Bring a mat for the warrior," said the friendly trader. "Now give him bread and meat."

From an abundance of bread, fowl, and fruit the wayfarer helped himself. A running conversation was meantime maintained.

"My ocelot? The story is simple; for your sakes, good friends, I wish it were better. I killed his mother, and took him when a whelp. Now he does me good service hunting. You should see him in pursuit of an antelope!"

"Then you are not a warrior?"

"To be a warrior," replied the hunter, modestly, "is to have been in many battles, and taken many captives. I have practised arms, and, at times, boasted of skill,-foolishly, perhaps; yet, I confess, I never marched a day under the banner of the great king."

"Ah!" said the old man, quizzically, "I understand you. You have served some free-trading company like our own."

"You are shrewd. My father is a merchant. At times he has travelled with strong trains, and even attacked cities that have refused him admission to their market."

"Indeed! He must be of renown. In what province does he live, my son?"

"In Tihuanco."

"Tepaja! old Tepaja, of Tihuanco! Are you son of his?" The good man grasped the young one's hand enthusiastically. "I knew him well; many years ago we were as brothers together; we travelled and traded through many provinces. That was the day of the elder Montezuma, when the Empire was not as large as now; when, in fact, most gates were closed against us, because our king was an Aztec, and we had to storm a town, then turn its square into a market for the sale of our wares. Sometimes we marched an army, each of us carrying a thousand slaves; and yet our tasks were not always easy. I remember once, down on the bank of the Great River, we were beaten back from a walled town, and succeeded only after a four days' fight. Ah, but we made it win! We led three thousand slaves back to Tenochtitlan, besides five hundred captives,-a present for the gods."

So the merchant talked until the hunger of his new acquaintance was appeased; then he offered a pipe, which was declined.

"I am fond of a pipe after a good meal; and this one has been worthy a king. But now I have no leisure for the luxury; the city to which I am bound is too far ahead of me."

"If it is your first visit, you are right. Fail not to be there before the market closes. Such a sight never gladdened your dreams!"

"So I have heard my father say."

"O, it never was as it will be to-night! The roads for days have been thronged with visitors going up in processions."

"What is the occasion?"

"Why, to-morrow is the celebration of Quetzal'! Certainly, my son, you have heard the prophecies concerning that god."

"In rumors only. I believe he was to return to Anahuac."

"Well, the story is long, and you are in a hurry. We also are going to the city, but will halt our slaves at Iztapalapan for the night, and cross the causeway before the sun to-morrow. If you care to keep us company, we will start at once; on the way I will tell you a few things that may not be unacceptable."

"I see," said the hunter, pleasantly, "I have reason to be proud of my father's good report. Certainly, I will go a distance with you at least, and thank you for information. To speak frankly, I am seeking my fortune."

The merchant spoke to his companions, and raising a huge conch-shell to his mouth, blew a blast that started every slave to his feet. For a few minutes all was commotion. The mats were rolled up, and, with the provision-baskets, slung upon broad shoulders; each tamane resumed his load of wares, and took his place; those armed put themselves, with their masters, at the head; and at another peal from the shell all set forward. The column, if such it may be called, was long, and not without a certain picturesqueness as it crossed the stream, and entered a tract covered with tall trees, amongst which the palm was strangely intermingled with the oak and the cypress. The whole valley, from the lake to the mountains, was irrigated, and under cultivation. Full of wonder, the hunter marched beside the merchant.

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